Simmons’ 50 years with FD3 proves his endurance, caring

For 50 years, Carl Simmons has been there to help anyone on South Whidbey whose life has been put in danger by fire, water, accident, or medical emrgencies.

Simmons, the longest-serving volunteer firefighter in Island County Fire District 3, recently turned in his hat and boots after half century and passed the torch to the next generation. He was honored at the district’s annual banquet this spring and during a reception at the Clinton station where he served. He is the first person in the district to serve as a firefighter for 50 years; his cousin Gordon Simmons retired after 47 years.

For 18,250 days, 600 months, Simmons served as a firefighter and emergency medical technician and station chief at the Clinton station. Now 70, he joined the district in 1954. During his years first as a firefighter, then as a battalion chief, he was in charge of the district’s first rescue squad.

“It has been a real privilege to serve the community. I have enjoyed working with the people and especially the wonderful group at Clinton,” Simmons said last week of his retirement.

Simmons said he has lived by one rule to “love your neighbor as yourself.” During his long career he has been involved in all types of rescues, including at house fires, car accidents, medical calls and marine rescues. With all this comes years of memories, most good but some painful.

“Some (rescues) never leave your mind,” he said. “They are a permanent picture that is impossible to forget.”

One incident he will never forget was head-on collision between two automobiles.

“It took two wreckers just to pull the cars apart and get to the people,” he said. We didn’t have extrication equipment in those days.”

More difficult was an accident in which 21-year-old woman thrown through the windshield of the vehicle. When Simmons got to her, she was awake and expressed a wish to be kept company. It was all fire volunteers could do for her.

“She was conscious and didn’t want to be left alone, then she was gone,” Simmons said.

Accidents like these led to the formation of the rescue squad. Under the direction of former Chief Paul Nichols, Simmons and three other volunteers were trained as emergency medical technicians in December 1981.

Simmons best memories from the past half century include solving an arson fire, rescuing people and some of their most treasured belongings from burning homes, and marine rescues with happy endings.

Surprisingly, though Simmons cannot swim, he was not deterred from going after people who were in danger of drowning. He remembers one incident in which two men nearly drowned in Deer Lake after capsizing their small boat. Simmons jumped into a small dingy and headed out to the middle of the lake.

“My boat was too small to pull them in without tipping all of us, so I grabbed the backs of their coats — one on each side — and held on for 45 minutes until more volunteers arrived on the scene,” he said.

In another incident, Simmons, with his brother, Roy Simmons jumped into a 6-foot boat and rescued a couple who were in the water south of the ferry dock.

“It was way too rough to launch a power boat,” he said. “The waves were high enough our small boat disappeared.”

Simmons served as a firefighter because, in his own words “because I believe in helping those in trouble,” but Simmons said it is time to step down and let younger people take over.

Simmons son, Kenon, is now chief of the Clinton station with 23 years in the fire district. In comparing himself to his father, Kenon Simmons joked “In two more years I will be half the man my father is.”

Simmons with his wife Ethel raised five children and have 11 grandchildren. Simmons was the founder and owner of Simmons Glass until 1997, when Kenon Simmons took it over.

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